Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review: Blue October, Stars in Stereo, Empires at House of Blues, 10/14

Words & photos by Eliana Siegal

WCR's Eliana Siegal was at House of Blues last Sunday to catch Blue October, Stars in Stereo and Chicago's own Empires. Check out her thoughts on each band's set below, and head over to the Saudade Photography Facebook page for many more photos from the night.

Stars in Stereo:
Stars in Stereo
For a band that had only been around for a few years, Stars in Stereo's set surprised me, since it was delivered with more skill than I had expected. The band played a few strong original songs before they went into a sexy rendition of the Nine Inch Nails' song "Closer"; the audience's eyes widened and then crinkled with recognition at the song they knew. This performance was even more blush-inducing than the original. Becca Hollcraft, the singer, was reminiscent to me of a young, jaded Amy Lee: a powerhouse of sound and of searching lyrics. The rest of the band was not content to leave the spotlight to her--they joined in on the frantic jumping and excited head-shaking themselves. Stars' confident performance made for a great introduction to the bands that followed.

This show took place on the Quiet Mind tour, which was Empires' first time supporting a band on a full tour; the new, bigger, venues were definitely suited for their boot-rattling rock sound. Singer (and occasional tambourinist) Sean Van Vleet gazed heavy-lidded out at the crowd as the set began, as though he was singing "Hello Lover" to each watching face. The band seemed happy to be back in their hometown, and the enthusiasm they all put into the performance showed it. As, of course, did their grins. The third song, "Hells Heroes," was introduced as "a song for those who wake up on Sunday morning and just don't feel like going to church." Van Vleet's emotive voice made it clear that he included himself in that group of people. Guitarists Tom Conrad and Max Steger wielded their axes with the "fire in their gut" Van Vleet mentioned had been a result of the band's explosive Lollapalooza set in August. Bassist Julio Tavarez was almost as eye-catching as the singer, playing his instrument like it was a lover, and making what seemed like every possible face as he did. Drummer Mike Robinson kept up the rythm with just the right amount of power the songs called for. The seven-song set went by far too quickly, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the room who wished they'd had a few more tunes.

Blue October:
The first word that came to mind was I watched Blue October play was "impassioned." It was an interesting contrast -- to see the man on-stage elegant and sharp in a three-piece suit begin to reveal himself to us through the music. The words he sang were simple enough to resonate with all in the audience, and were conveyed with such a sincerity that even I couldn't help but be moved. This is clearly a band who has soul. Their music spans over 15 years and five studio albums, and the crowd that night spanned at least three decades; I was impressed that they had reached such a wide range of people. The band thundered through their extended 20-song set without losing their momentum or the attention of the crowd who, all throughout, kept up melodically as if it was the band’s first song.

At times, Justin Furstenfeld sang like he was speaking to all the people in his life who had disappointed him. On an even more personal note, Furstenfeld introduced a song toward the middle of the set by saying he had grown a lot as a person since the time he'd written a lot of those lyrics, and he wished he had listened to himself back then. In a way, some of the songs were letters to his former self. The “Quiet Mind” tour is named after the 2003 song of the same title, and is a celebration of Furstenfeld’s current state, one of less turbulence and more peace.

There were many couples in the crowd, and it seemed that as they swayed back and forth they were all envisioning their own version of "18th-Floor Balcony," thinking back to a time when they, too, "had their hearts on display for all to see." All of the words would just have been poetry if not for the sounds spun behind them. Furstenfeld was supported by his band: Ryan Delahoussaye on guitar and violin, Jeremy Furstenfeld on drums, Julian Mandrake on guitar, and Matt Noveskey on bass. The whole band played with the skill that comes from years of hard work and the music of their creation was haunting. Blue October showed every person at the show -- devoted listener and non-believer alike -- the secret to their success: honesty and passion.


  1. Awesome positive review!
    Please сorrect - Matt Noveskey on bass, and Julian Mandrake on guitar. Thank you.